They are in a locked stance. Engaged, diametrically opposite one another, they stand: her arms crossed are now, as his fingertips press against his eyebrows. This excavation has left the living room air charged with things best left forgotten. Now he coughs into his hand. He continues to avoid eye contact, though not for lack of wanting. It is understood that, in the days proceeding a burial (such as the one here which started at a moment of furtive vulnerability approximately seventy-four hours prior), there are certain malevolent incantations that become almost too good to ignore using. It is as if the gravedigger is overcome by ravenous spirits excited by unfurling soil. Said digger will spit out curses of which even a sorceress would be more wary. Or, as said by his step-brother in reference to this event two weeks from now: “[they] live off that dramatic sh*t, man, and you’ll never see it coming, man. It’ll happen again and again.”
“Of course you’ve been drinking again,” she begins to say. Her words share a sentiment raging through time. At present, some thirty-thousand people within the United States are saying something along these lines to their significant other. She continues. He hears her, and he nods his head; he waits to speak. They stay opposite each other as he closes the door behind him and walks across the living room to reach the open bar connected to their kitchen.
“I don’t know where this is coming from,” he says to her. Sort of at her, actually. In her general direction, his voice pans out flat and wide like the sharp horizon that surrounded his childhood home. He is doing his best to keep his hand still as he tosses half a handful of ice cubes into his tumbler. They have exchanged less than three-hundred words. His heart-rate is pronounced: palpitations have begun, and this sends him reeling back to his years spent alone on walks through his quiet neighborhood: wherein he would walk for miles in the waning afternoon before suddenly losing his breath, stopping to sit, clenching his chest, writhing alone against a residential privacy fence for thirty minutes as he tried to remember who he was. He stops himself from checking his pulse.
A very loud question is raised—“Jesus Christ, do you even listen to me?” And, but then, a spark ignites. Outside of their apartment, in the courtyard beyond their balcony, arrangements of fallen leaves sit either in lazy piles or in tightly packed black garbage bags. The wind is soft, tearing only a few leaves from their respective mounds; otherwise, these dried bits of dead matter decay in the cool dimming late afternoon. By sheer coincidence, exactly four years preceding the present scene saw the two of them laying in a similar pile, coupled, both wearing light jackets and smiles as they let the tips of their noses touch.
He forgoes civility and throws the contents of the glass down his throat. Then he pours another. Her face is locked in half-disgust at him. She says something that he does not hear. She says it louder a second time. He continues to drink, finishes—he turns to her, one eye peeking around the edge of the stained glass. She does not notice his totally not-dry eyes. She watches him lower his glass and brush his hand across his face in a manner that she will remember seeing many other people do—a totally normal gesture that has been performed by countless people. However, she will only remember this after the current scene. For now, she considers it to be another of his numerous tics, which she has only in the last two months began to really notice—one of which in particular (his tendency to go affect-less and respond in moments of emotional intensity with a cold, efficient use of language) feels to her like pure enmity, and has given her cause to question just how much his feelings for her are something organic, or a truth made so only by constant affirmation (in other words, the romantic stride he put on when they first met had long-since worn her down, and not felt, especially at moments of weakness, like disingenuous bleating).
With a fiery breath, he responds to her invocation of their Lord and Savior. He says something innocuous, at first. He is still, in his mind, of the mind that he is trying to pull off of the acceleration; rather, he is convinced—thanks to an overzealous loop in thinking that has taken years of insecurity and subtle self-loathing to be created—that he is, in fact, more capable of determining what she thinks of him than she is, and that he is more capable of solving their problems than they are as a team. There need not be a reminder at how dubious this line of thinking is. He allows himself to fall in: he grabs at the all-too-real allure: rather than attempt to extinguish this growing heat, he foments.
“Y’know, you’ve always been like that. You’ve always just been like that.”
“What are you talking about?” She asks. (There is a noted increase in the pitch of their voices.)
“Don’t play around now. I know you want to just say it,” he says. He is dancing. She is, too. They’re locked together in the now, feet dawdling, blood beginning to surge. In her chest she feels a rising warmth. She is so completely reviled by the prospect of him conniving his way out of this argument that she preemptively calls him out before he can lay himself before her with poetry, prostrate. She is unrelenting in her method: she tears down his structure, his stance; she has spent years listening and learning how it is that he works, how he rebukes conflict sent his way. In the past, he was just a softer man that had more insight to her emotions than anyone else she had been with. In the past she let it go. But nothing was being let go right now, at this moment, in their stoked living room, contained in an apartment leased in her name.
It continues like this for ten minutes: at some point one of them yells, then the other—then both of them, over each other. She marches into the bedroom and he follows. From the windows of the room, through iron-bar and open-blind exhibition, their affair continues. He shouts at her, reminding her of how great they are together. She lays out, in excruciating detail, the continued disappointment that his behavior has become for her, and how it stifles not only her progression as a person, but his, too—and of course theirs, as a couple. A shared unit, marred by his constant self-flagellation, doomed to become a codependent mess wherein neither party ends up happy, as she says.
Three weeks from now as he lays on the couch in his brother’s condo in Denver, he will piece together a narrative somewhat solving the subtext of her (his, at present, long-time girlfriend’s) words. It will be a moment of realization: he will take their final months in decaying romance and boil them in a fixture, scraping out a coherent, substantial precedent for the conflict that ended his most fulfilling relationship. This solution will cause him to surge in anger initially, as it will reopen the almost month-old wound and a vile poison upon them as he connects the fact that an acquaintance of whom he introduced to her at a work party months ago was directly involved with her recent and frankly dramatic turnaround in thinking and acting.
“Did you ever love me?”
“Are you kidding me?”
“What am I supposed to say?”
There is a breaking point that every scene of estrangement reaches. Once one party becomes sufficiently exhausted, the other is forced to mete out their will in one of two resolute methods: reconcile, or continue the siege. This statement is true: at all previous junctures, one of these parties would end their argument before it burned everything around them. At least one person would see reason enough to say, “wait a minute, let’s just put this out—the warmth is not worth losing everything else we’ve built together, right?” However, this time was different. She, in her self-assuredness, set upon him. Her every line was meant to hit hard. She knew this soft-handed man well enough to sear his flesh. Truth be told, doing this hurt her just as much. The initial catharsis of shouting all those packed away hostilities at someone you care for is soon forgotten, and in its place you tend only to notice the cindered bridge, broken and streamed over by a tumid river some time far after the inferno has ended.
To him it is the ultimate betrayal. Years spent confiding secrets meant only for her ears have now been formally returned to him, shot back like hell-fire. In the ensuing eight minutes she made sure that every sense of her being was lost to him. She wanted him to forget who she was—or at least question it enough to want to leave forever. To this effect, she was successful. He stammered and staggered back to his cabinet, pouring one drink and then another. She continued. Unknown to him then, the air reeked of perfidy; and though he could not name it at the time, his gut instinct sensed this much: something was wrong re: how this whole thing had gone down. It has gone, now. In that grueling and rushed trice, he lashed back with his own brand of vicious abrogation, half-infused with Jameson—and in that precise moment, when his lips closed off at the end of his irreparable debasement, there was a shared acceptance between the both of them. One needed not say aloud just what it was that had been done in that moment of captured annulment.
A brace broken. Twain pulled clean on this corresponding evening. There are countless cessations in this world, and in all fairness most things that begin will end at least somewhat similar to this. He knows that. She knows it, too. They had, in their prime, never thought to consider what their own end would look like. Instead, in the here and now, they stood together and shared in the deepest sense a connection that would not break by words alone. It was a connection between them that was primitive in its form and function—for it only revealed the most instinctual cast: that he wanted, even in this truculent cortège, nothing more than for her to smile and laugh, to be happy; that she wanted, despite the violence and fury, for him to understand that he is capable of being loved, and of loving others truly. But unfortunately this truth was only evident in the unconscious mind—capable of being seen only through sordid retrospection alone. From the second he walked in a noxious smoke filled the living room. This place was no longer peace or comfort.
They throw words at each other for another twenty minutes.
The front door of the apartment slams shut behind him as he leaves. He presses his hand against his face and shuffles down the stairs and out through the door and into the parking lot to his car. He will be reminded of her several hundred times in the ensuing weeks and months. She leans against the table in the dining room and closes her own eyes and rubs her cheeks. They are flushed, blood warm. She is warm. She is alone. She will, over the course of the next year, find meaning in self-destruction. Through the balcony door of her apartment she could see the gibbous moon ascending. The light of the sun burns across the pale surface of that lonely satellite, lost in a sea of deep blue darkness. She thinks it looks like a painting.